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With ‘Queer Futures’ Joy Becomes a Strategy for Liberation

“That resistance is the how,” explains Twiggy Pucci Garçon. “but what’s under that resistance is joy […] a root of resilience.”

By Dessane Lopez Cassell

July 19, 2023

From MnM (2023), dir. Twiggy Pucci Garçon, all images courtesy Multitude Films.

What would it look like to imagine a radically different future for queer life, rooted in joy and liberation?

Queer Futures, a new series produced by Multitude Films, invites us to practice this exercise over the course of four short films—three of which made their New York debut in June, as part of the Ford Foundation’s summer screening series, JustFilms Presents! 

With The Script, directors Brit Fryer and Noah Schamus lead their cast, crew, and viewers in an experiment, as they envision more affirming trans healthcare systems through collective recreation and reinvention. Meanwhile, in MnM and How to Carry Water, directors Twiggy Pucci Garçon and Sasha Wortzel craft tender portraits of chosen family. The former traces the sisterhood of Mermaid and Milan Garçon, two nonbinary Ballroom stars on the rise, while the latter follows Florida-based artist Shoog McDaniel, as they imagine a more abundant world for fat, queer creators.

Following their JustFilms screening, I joined Fryer, Schamus, Garçon, and Wortzel for a conversation about their work, with cultural critic J Wortham (Executive Producer of Queer Futures) and author and activist Raquel Willis.

Ahead of our 12th annual BlackStar Film Festival—featuring screenings of both The Script and MnM—dive into an excerpt of our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity. 


From How to Carry Water(2023), dir. Sasha Wortzel.

Dessane Lopez Cassell: Thank you all for being here and sharing your films, all of which, as Jess [Devaney, Founder and President of Multitude Films] said at the top, center joy and offer us these stunning, nuanced depictions of their collaborators. Could each of you start by telling us a bit about how you first met your collaborators and decided to bring these stories to the screen? Sasha, could you start us off?

Sasha Wortzel (dir. How to Carry Water): My film is a deep collaboration with a dear friend, Shoog McDaniel and many others, but the film really grows out of a 20-year friendship. We are both from Florida—Shoog working in the northern part of Florida in this beautiful spring system that you experienced [in the film]—these waters that gush out from deep in the earth. And I was working in South Florida. And we have long wanted to collaborate, so when this opportunity came up from Multitude Films, it felt really clear that this would be a good opportunity for us to get together and make a film. In fact, Shoog would be like, Sash-ay (they call me Sash-ay), “when are we going to make a film together?” So it really grew out of that friendship.

[Queer Futures]  and both of our art practices, are really thinking about, not what’s lacking, and the problems, but sites of possibility and abundance. We wanted to make something really joyous that encapsulated Shoog’s practice, which creates a space that brings people into these beautiful bodies of water and into the land, and underscores that connection. And which lets people feel autonomous over how they want to be seen and make beautiful images. The aesthetics are important too, but we wanted the film to embody that experience and be a platform to also produce another body of work for Shoog alongside the film. It was a really beautiful experience.

Twiggy Pucci Garcon (dir. MnM): I remember getting a call from Jess about this project when I was working with the Multitude family on something else and they told me about Queer Futures. Initially, I wanted [MnM] to be about being non-binary in the ballroom scene. I’m non-binary. Mermaid is my niece and Milan is my granddaughter, and they’re both non-binary, but we walk very different categories. Everyone knows that ballroom is this really liberative space—this place of creativity and of expression. But as far as competition is concerned, the categories are very compartmentalized. And so what is the conversation to be had within the ballroom community about that? Do we need gender non-conforming or non-binary categories, et cetera? But as we started to unpack the project and really dive deep into it, it became the story of family, the story of sisterhood, the story of self-expression that was really just about how beautiful the two of them are and the connection that they have and the family that they’ve created.

Brit Fryer (co-dir. The Script): So Noah and I met in undergrad and this project started when we were thinking about our experiences in doctor’s offices. We had had different experiences from each other. I felt all this pressure to be very masc because I didn’t want doctors to not give me [the care that] I was searching for. I think we were really interested in figuring out what was happening with other people in these typically private spaces that are only really known by the provider and the patient. We interviewed a bunch of people and worked with really talented actors who helped us workshop all of these different iterations of scripts and experiences that we were hearing in the interviews but also with[in] our own selves.

Noah Schamus (co-dir. The Script): We always have one question that we’re chewing on together and we love pulling other collaborators in to help us continue to think about that question. I’m super grateful to all of our collaborators, the crew, and also the folks who agreed to come on this journey as participants and actors. ‘Cause I think there are still many questions to be answered about trans healthcare, but they helped us create some more questions to keep thinking about.

From The Script (2023), dirs. Brit Fryer and Noah Schamus

DLC: That’s something that shines through in each of your films—clearly, collaboration is a big part of not only the form but also the subject. Could you talk a little bit about collaboration as an ethos, and how this shows up in your film and your work?

SW (How to Carry Water): With Shoog, we started by just having a conversation: if Shoog could do a photo shoot that was resourced, what would they want to do? And so we came up with three ideas, so really the structure of the film was very much born of this idea of creating a space for them to create work. It was really important to think about who was going to be in these—who we call the chorus—and bring the other themes to the surface. We really did the casting together, to bring in people who Shoog and also myself had already worked with, had a relationship with, who we knew would be comfortable in front of the camera. So even in our crew, there was just this very family vibe on set.

I think filmmaking, unfortunately, is often a very ableist industry in so many ways. And so it was really important in our process to think about right up front, what would people’s access needs be, building in breaks, making sure that we had really comfortable chairs and seating nearby, and building access into every part of the process. 

DLC: Twiggy, Brit, and Noah, I’d love to hear how embracing collaboration as an ethos really informed the look and feel of your films as well.

BF (The Script): Noah and I started with a question, and the only way we could actually move through it was to make this movie and invite all these people to build a doctor’s office set and play these roles and respond to these interview questions. I don’t know any other way to ask these deep questions about the future without thinking about other people. I think there’s something to the way The Script was made that says: our future will be collectively built. We will need all of us to be in some role, thinking and dreaming. 

TPG (MnM): I think our collaboration is so deeply rooted in trust. [Mermaid and Milan] are personal family members, my granddaughter and my niece. And one thing I learned from my father, Michael, is about strategy in Ballroom. The moment [Mermaid and Milan] talked about, where they met, was actually their induction meeting to join the House of Garçon. And so I’m witnessing this connection that’s happening and I’m like, huh, we can do something with this on the ballroom floor. So I’m like, oh, y’all just going to walk all the same balls together, this is going to be a thing.

And we got really close; we have a text thread, it’s been since forever. And when the opportunity came up, I called them and they’re like, well great. Twiggy, we trust you. We’ve been having this conversation amongst ourselves about what it means to be in Ballroom, especially from an American context. And so it really was just like, I trust you, you trust me, we’re one big happy family.

DLC: Twiggy, I want to bring up something that you mentioned the other day: this idea of thinking about joy as both a strategy and a vehicle, not just as an emotion. Could you talk a bit more about what you meant by that [framing of joy]?

 TPG (MnM): Absolutely. Joy is a state of consciousness. It is omnipresent. It’s always the undercurrent of things, a root of resilience. I think joy as a practice is about understanding this, especially from a Ballroom context, where you have this resistance movement—resistance to homophobia, transphobia, racism, all these isms, all the phobias. That resistance is the how, but what’s under that resistance is joy. You know, the ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’—that really deep, rich feeling, where no matter the circumstance, even in the political climate today, we can be in this room, be in this space, that’s more than just happiness, right? 

DLC: So… no one wants to follow that… 

BF (The Script): [laughs] I can’t.

DLC: I think that segues pretty naturally into something else that I wanted to discuss: this theme of fluidity that runs through each film and goes hand-in-hand with a debunking of traditional notions of expertise. Brit and Noah, there’s this moment in your film where one of your collaborators notes “we are the experts on ourselves…” 

BF (The Script): Yeah, I think there’s this idea of “experts” who know you and your community much better than you do. And I feel so grateful that one of our participants, Nyss, said, ‘I know myself and I’m the only one who could possibly know this.’ I think there’s something really powerful about just acknowledging that, because you’re the only person who should be allowed to have autonomy over yourself, your identity, anything that you want to do, because nobody else knows. All of our collaborators hinted at this notion: that all these people are throwing these ideas of what I should be, whether they think that I’m cis or trans. There’s all these notions of what you should be, but everyone has their own way of nuancing that.

NS (The Script): I think a lot about fluidity in my own thinking process and filmmaking process. ‘Cause I like to complicate, and then over complicate, and then complicate again, then circle back to the original complication. And it feels really nice to have been a part of films that lean into that complexity in a way that is an invitation for other people to join us in that process and really be in the space of curiosity. And I think part of our process is just being very process-oriented.

DLC: Twiggy, Sasha, I’d love to hear from you as well about how you’re thinking about embracing fluidity.

 SW (How to Carry Water): I’m still thinking about joy. With fluidity, the experience of fluidity, water is of course a character in my film. It’s really important for water to not just be background but to be foregrounded as a character. And I feel so much joy when I’m in the water, I think we all often do. [For me], it was really important to me to show the beauty and abundance and fluidity of Florida as well, a place that we know gets maligned and is the butt of the joke. And for good reason; there’s a lot of heightened violence there. But I think it was important for us to center the pleasure and joy and community and care that we can build in the everyday, even in the face of really remarkable violence. So that doesn’t answer your question, but I’m still thinking about joy as a state of consciousness and what it can do.

TPG (MnM): When I think of fluidity, I think of myself, I think of people around me. To borrow from Milan’s point, that non-binary might be the word of the decade; and “the math isn’t mathing.” It’s this whole notion that there’s not an either/or, right? I mentioned equity being a vehicle towards liberation, and in the study of equity there’s this list of white dominant culture norms and one of those is either/or thinking. And so to answer your question, I think we have to get out of either/or thinking and have an approach of both/and; an approach of, not gender binaries but gender expansion, and maybe just expansion more broadly.

From The Script

DLC: I think that’s really key: there is space. Creating a sense of spaciousness, in not only how we talk and think about ourselves, but also in how we express that and share it visually, in films and beyond. This feels like a good moment to invite two other guests on stage. And so, if you will, join me in welcoming J Wortham, cultural critic and Executive Producer of Queer Futures, as well as activist and author, Raquel Willis.

DLC [to Raquel and J]: As we keep talking about space and authorship—really, agency—I want to anchor this in a recognition that each of these films model the fact that liberation is actually a daily practice. It’s not just an end goal for us to work towards. It’s something that we commit to in every aspect in our lives. And I want to think about y’all’s work as writers. Could you talk about how you navigate that work when it comes to creating that space for liberation?

 Raquel Willis: I want to just name the bravery it takes to imagine organizing in a different way. I think that we often have a very limited idea of what resistance looks like. And yes, we out on the streets honey, because our organizers on the streets need your support, but organizing can’t just be there, it has to be in every realm of our lives. And so I appreciate the space and the work that y’all are doing [as filmmakers] because it is literally organizing. So I wanted to name that first.

I think the other part, about liberation, is that it’s not just the labor that is important, it is also the rest [required] to create a beautiful thing. For me, it’s been important to embrace grace, and space, and rest, and surrendering in a way, to my process and to my gifts. ‘Cause I think for a long time it was like if it’s not hard, if it’s not grueling, if it doesn’t hurt in a way, is it real and is it necessary? And yeah, it is very necessary.

J Wortham: I mean, I have to go after that? [laughs]

I just want to say the films look so good. I’m so proud of you all and it’s just been such a gift to watch [the work] evolve over the last year or so. So just congratulations on that.

To this question of liberation, I’ve been thinking so much more about collaboration. We live in New York City, or many of us do, and I think there’s a culture of just nonstop work over all. We’re encouraged to live at the pace of—I’ll say the world, but I don’t think it’s the world, I think it’s… capitalism. It’s also news media and it’s also everything being on-demand all the time and the expectation of being available all the time. And the thing I love about these films is that they’re each showing all these different ways in which we get to choose. And I’m saying just queer people, but I feel like not queer people can also take notes and learn from this.

We get to decide what the tenor and the quality and the caliber of our lives look like. Whether it’s deciding what family’s going to look like, how we’re going to show up in these traditional legacy spaces that need to evolve with us too. And how do we do that and walk hand-in-hand and not leave anybody behind? How we think about the environment, how we think about our bodies, and how we also find ways to be in the environment that suit our bodies rather than the world tell us how either of us are supposed to function; and also the incredible interplay of thinking about what it means to need and want treatment and find our freedom after these incredibly traumatic experiences, and talk about the ways in which we use language and language uses us—all of that to me is about liberation. 

I know that’s not really answering the question about my work, but I think what I’m trying to say is, this is what I’m learning about liberation through these films and what they’re saying about how we show up and take that for ourselves.

DLC: I think speaks to this notion of utility. We don’t have to pigeonhole art or culture into being “useful,” or whatever that means in a hyperproductive, capitalist society. The different ways in which we navigate the world are complementary. 

Raquel, I want to shift over to the work that you do in the legal and activism realm when it comes to thinking about how we get free and stay free. How do you think culture fits into that equation, or complements it?

RW: I think culture is often the first site that many of us come into contact with to understand ourselves, to understand each other. Especially here in the States, most people don’t know, or say they don’t know, trans and non-binary folks. So oftentimes, we’re at the whim of what’s happening in culture, whether it’s hateful rhetoric from a politician or a Grand Wizard, as homegirl said. (I don’t know if y’all saw that, but she called DeSantis “DeSatan.”) [laughter] 

But thinking about that rhetoric, right, oftentimes that’s the only thing people are consuming. And so that’s why it’s important for us to have folks who are creating. 

Going back to the first question, when we think about liberation as this destination far off in the future—yes, it can be useful in a way to understand liberation as something that’s not going to happen in our lifetime, but it also can be very disheartening. So if we only look at liberation as something in the future, we miss opportunities in our day-to-day life. [To Brit, Noah, Twiggy, and Sasha] I think all of your films speak to the need to build liberation into the present; to build it into feeding our people, into creating shelter for our people; to build it into creating sites of connection, sites of embodiment, sites of deeper and stronger self-expression.

The Script and MnM will make their Philadelphia premieres on August 2 as part of the 2023 BlackStar Film Festival. Additionally, catch Brit Fryer and Milan Garçon (of MnM) on the Black Queer Futures panel on August 6, moderated by J Wortham.